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Riding the Timeline on the Coombs Cowichan 300
The Vancouver Island Super Randonneur Week 300
Ride Date: May 8, 2023
by Eric Fergusson

I'm really warming to the idea of the "Hors Délai" finishing status. It means that a rider has finished the route, but not in time to get credit for the ride. It's a designation common in randonneur cycling and recognized in our database as "HD". My Stenosis diagnosis has shifted my focus on many things about our sport, including my finishing status goals. An HD finish would still count as something. After looking at the Coombs Cowichan 300 route, a route built around some serious ups, I thought that maybe this will be it - the ride that tips me over into HD territory. Maybe I should just embrace it.

It's the steep grades that really challenge me now. Imagine riding with only one leg fully functioning. You can get away with it on the flats. You can still keep peddling on slight and medium grades, though progress is slow. On steep grades your legs can't push the pedals around - you're going to need to get off and walk. After the CC 300 was over I went back through the route and counted the number of hills I needed to walk. It was 23.

_ _ _ _ _

The Ride:

Despite the ups and downs in the north Nanaimo suburbs near the start, I was able to get to the 48 km control in Coombs with 23 minutes in the bank, and not too far behind Gary, Barry and Rick. Barry and Rick had stopped about 100 meters short of the control and were deep in conversation. That was a little weird. I took off from the Coombs control just after Gary, and was expecting Rick and Barry to pass me shortly. I was confused when this didn't happen.

We all learned later that Barry and Rick abandoned at the Coombs control and were soon rescued by Stephen. Barry was having chest pains that would land him in the hospital for care and testing for the rest of the week. My understanding now is that the testing revealed nothing of concern and Barry was soon back riding.

I soon pushed the missing riders off my worry list as my attention found urgent focus elsewhere. There were two very big problems ahead: the serious gradients in the coming sections at Nanaimo's west and south periphery, and the ever-ticking clock. By the Briggs/Doumont control (93 km) I had only 12 minutes in hand. At the Extension control (118 km) I was still only 12 minutes up. But finally there was some easing, and by the Chemainus Coop Gas control I had some time in hand: a full 26 minutes. I knew I was going to need every second of it to survive the unforgiving terrain in and out of Genoa Bay, where I was now heading.

Soon after entering the Genoa Bay stretch, and just in time for a lift to my flagging spirits, I crossed with Gary returning from Genoa Bay. Relentlessly positive as always, he piled on the encouragement. "You're doing great... I bet you finish under 19." (19 hours.) Happily, by the Genoa control I still had time in hand - a luxurious 23 minutes. Maybe I can do this... but probably not in 19.

By the next control at the Mill Bay PetroCan I had lost a little ground, and was now up by only 18 minutes. Part of this was of course the stretch back from Genoa Bay, but there was also the long climb (walk) out of Cowichan Bay. I don't think there's any doubt that this was my longest uphill walk on the route. There was also a very steep section on Cherry Point Road that I have no previous memory of, though I have ridden this stretch many times. I guess it just didn't used to feel "very steep".

After Mill Bay there was what I thought was a relatively easy section through Cobble Hill and Koksilah to the Glenora store. But no. I was down to 12 minutes again at Glenora and needed some extra time here to switch to night clothes. This is when panic crept into the ride. I changed quickly, topped up my calories and got on the road down to Duncan. I was about 500 metres down the road, running through my mental checklist, when I realized I hadn't answered the Glenora control question. Oh no! I turned around and climbed back up to Glenora to get the answer to the question "Our Soup Today?" (It was Tomato Basil.)

Now I was in real trouble. The first part of this leg was down hill and fast, but there was going to be some navigation in Duncan in the dark, on roads and a gravel path stretch that were new to me. I made sure I got it right in Duncan, but there was stop time to double check the unfamiliar turns.

I had thought that Bell McKinnon Road out of Duncan was relatively flat, but here too my memory failed me. It was a steady, if gentle, up the whole way, and then three more walks remained: Westholme, and the two short sharp inclines on Code and Haslam in Cedar. There were some fast stretches on this leg, and I rode them at my physical limit, but I wasn't sure it was going to be enough.

After some concentrated riding I reached the penultimate control at the Millway Store at the far end of Cedar. I was comfortably within the time limit. Finally some relief. The time was 12:58 a.m.. The distance at Millway was 289 km, and so I had a full hour to finish the last 11 km, on familiar and manageable roads. My body was still juiced up on panic adrenaline from the Glenora to Cedar leg, so I could have gone faster, but I think I allowed myself to relax, if just a little.

I bet you've already spotted the problem. I had it in my battered rando-brain that the route was 300 km. The actual distance was 303.1 km. At my current normal riding pace I actually had only a very small margin to finish within the limit. I moved through the remaining course at a reduced but still healthy pace and surprised myself by riding, not walking, the St. George Street climb near the end. I arrived at the finish control, the Brooks Landing Tims, feeling calm and confident. Then I looked at my bike computer clock. It was 1:58 a.m. I was just 2 minutes from elimination. Almost immediately the time clicked over to 1:59. I looked at my control card and quickly realized why I had cut it so close - that extra 3.1 km.

I then thought, with a time this close to the cut off, nobody is going to believe me... No problem. I'll take a photo with my new hand-me-down i-phone from Sian. The photo will be time stamped. It took a few minutes to dig out my phone, find my reading glasses and most importantly, to "stage" my bike for the photo that would feature in the newsletter submission which was already under construction somewhere in my brain. The two photos I took were marked 2:03 and 2:04 am. I hoped that Stephen would be ok with this slight delay. He was. Phew! My HD is going to have to wait for another day.


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June 28, 2023